Integrating Delivery and Growing Imaging Volume: Longview Regional Medical Center

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In June 2012, Longview Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Texas began a multimillion-dollar expansion aimed at making deeper integration of care delivery possible throughout the 230-bed hospital. The facility doubled its operating rooms, ICU beds, and postpartum beds, as well as adding a new neonatal ICU and an oncology unit. In April 2013, it added a new, high-field open MRI system, the Oasis 1.2T boreless system from Hitachi Medical Systems America. Terry Heffern, director of radiology for LRMC, says, “We wanted the highest-field open system available in the market.”

Heffern explains that LRMC was competing with two outpatient imaging centers, one of which already had a lower-field open system. “We felt that if we went with another vendor’s system with a lesser field strength, the outpatient imaging center would just bring in the Oasis to counter our claim to fame,” he says. “With today’s informed patients, it’s important to have the most recent, best technology—and to be able to market yourself based on that.”

Volume on the Rise

Rachel Peoples, head MRI technologist at LRMC, notes that the hospital’s expansion meant an influx of new volume for the radiology department, creating challenges. “When the new wing opened, in October 2013, the hospital was able to take a lot more patients,” she says. “We have quite a few bariatric patients, and although we’d try different ways to get them in the other scanner, if it didn’t work out, we’d wind up sending them to a competitor.”

In addition to the Oasis system, LRMC has a traditionally-designed 1.5T MRI system. Heffern says that the hospital’s physicians are pleased to have two MRI systems to accommodate their patient loads. “Now, they have two options they can offer their patients,” he notes. Peoples adds, “The Oasis is for people who’ve never had an MRI exam and have a fear of it, people who are larger, people with claustrophobia, and children.”

Since the Oasis was installed, in April 2013, LRMC has seen its MRI volume increase dramatically, Heffern says. “We went from an average of four scans a day to 10 to 15, and even that is only limited by our necessity of retaining a couple of time slots for inpatients,” he says. “We’re booked solid all day, every day, from 7 AM to 5 PM.”

Patient Satisfaction

The Oasis has been such a hit among patients, in fact, that LRMC is planning to expand its imaging hours to accommodate their needs better. “We’re searching for an evening MRI technologist now,” Heffern says. “A lot of patients calling to schedule have mentioned that they don’t want to take time off from work if they can avoid it, so we are hoping to be able to increase our hours soon.” LRMC monitors its Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores every three months to ensure that patient satisfaction is on the rise.

Peoples says that patients have been thrilled with the hospital’s expansion, in general—as well as with the new MRI system, in particular. “They’re happy with everything we’ve done,” she says. “You should see their faces when they see the Oasis. We’ve been able to scan claustrophobic and bariatric patients easily: There’s no more going inside the coffin, as many of them called the old system. We image pediatric patients as well. Their parents can sit in the room with them and hold their hands, and that makes it a lot more comfortable for them, too.”

She adds that as a technologist, she also is helped by the Oasis. “It’s a lot easier to work with people on this system,” she says. “We have a lot of coil options—for instance, for claustrophobic patients who can’t have anything over their faces, we have a solenoid coil that they wear like a headband. The system is very versatile: The options for accommodating patients are almost endless.”

As a result, Heffern anticipates that LRMC’s MRI volume will only continue to grow. “I did not expect our volume to increase as quickly as it did,” he says. “We initially thought it would take a lot of repetitive marketing to get the word out; instead, patients have been spreading the word themselves. Some have even been calling and requesting the system. Compared with how patients responded to the long and tight tunnel of our previous scanner, this is a huge difference.”